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This Week’s Creature Feature: The Gnatcatcher

Little but loud
       The blue-gray gnatcatcher is a very common tiny bird. They are a light bluish-gray with a white ring around their eyes and two white vertical tail streaks, seen when they flare their tails.
     In Maryland, only the hummingbird and kinglet are smaller. But unlike those birds, the gnatcatcher is an alert complainer. Gnatcatchers have high-pitched, nagging calls that seem to follow me as I try to take a quiet walk in the woods. They are also known for grouping up and flying around and yelling at predators, a process called mobbing. Other birds use them as sentinels. During fall and spring migrations, many other species will fly with the gnatcatcher for protection.  
      Gnatcatchers are common because they can thrive in many types of habitats and eat a wide variety of small insects. They also are quite fecund, having three broods a year.
     Because they are curious, one of the best ways to find them is to make a sound like a low-pitched library hush. If done right, it sounds like the  warning call of a wren. Birding folks call it pishing. I don’t use the sound much because it makes the birds go on alert so they move around nervously and are hard to photograph.  
      The photo shows a young gnatcatcher begging for food.